Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Larson Not Laughing

Blogger/Motivational Speaker Graeme Codrington (bio here) has a problem with Gary Larson asking him not to use Far Side cartoons on his (Codrington's) Web site:

"Now, Gary Larson, in a nice enough way, has asked us to remove the page. What I don’t get is his logic. His argument is all about his emotional attachment to his cartoons, his desire to exercise control over their usage and the fact that they are 'his children.' Sure. But what about the 20 Larson books I have in my library? Why isn’t he concerned about them? I’ll be honest and say I don’t think I’ve dusted them in over a year, and one or two may have torn pages. Does that make him sad?

"Why can’t he just be honest and say, 'Hey punk, if you didn’t pay for the pictures, you can’t use them.' I did actually pay for them - the pics on the site were all scanned from legal copies of his books that I own."

Link here.

There are only a couple of comments from readers on his blog. Both are on Graeme's side. And, although the blog entry is from October 2006, I only recently saw it, and I wanted to talk about getting cartoons for free on the Web, and the rights of cartoonists.

Graeme feels he's entitled to take the work from Larson becuase he's bought a lot of Far Side merchandise over the years, and "contributed to what I assume is a fairly wealthy man’s fortune." And he assumes that having bought the book entitles him to using the man's work to his own ends.

OK, a lot of people clip out a cartoon and put it up in their office or school locker.

Taking cartoons is one thing. Taking them for profit is another.

Here's Graeme again:

"A website I own hosts a number of talks that can be used in youth groups. ... One of the talks was about how to use Gary Larson’s cartoons to teach young people about God. It was a fun talk, and it included some examples of his cartoons."

And Graeme has stumbled on the whole key: fair use.

At the Carnegie Museum, in one of the back rooms, there's a cartoon of mine (above) that someone taped to the door. My dad's a docent there, and when I saw it, I thanked him. He told me that he didn't put it there. Well, that's nice. Someone else -- someone not related to me -- saw it in WSJ and liked it enough to bother to clip it and tape it up to cheer up the messy Museum break room.

Now, if someone was, for instance, using the cartoon to sell something -- that would not be OK with me.

This person would be using my cartoon as a tool to help them personally profit.

"As an author and presenter myself, I accept that people use my work," Graeme writes. " ... I don’t pursue the copyright I own and am entitled to. Is that just me? I’d like your opinion."

Well, that's his business. But as far as cartoonists are concerned ....

A cartoonist giving away his or her cartoons is a hot topic and has lit up some pro and/or amateur cartooning boards. But some do offer their cartoons for free to Web sites. How do you make a living giving away your cartoons?

One side of this debate says EXPOSURE IS GOOD and the other says YOU KNOW, PEOPLE CAN DIE FROM EXPOSURE.


If someone's taping up a cartoon of mine in their school locker or their MySpace page, then that's fine with me. That's personal use. But if someone is using another person's creation without permission for business purposes, then that's wrong.

I don't think it's wrong to a cartoonist give away their cartoons. It's their business. And most of the gag cartoonists who do give away their work are only giving away a portion of their output. (I can't speak for Web cartoonists who tend to put 100% of their product out there for free.) A lot of businesses give away stuff (free t-shirts, pens, 2-for1 coupons). It's a way to drum up business and remind people you're out there. But I also believe that it's up to the creator to choose which way to go on this issue.

But it's flat out wrong to use cartoons for a commercial purpose without making an agreement with the cartoonist.


Nigel Beard said...

I agree with your views about copywrite issues and in particular private use being exempt. However a blog is a powerful web publishing tool and therefore bloggers should respect artists/creators rights and seek permission or at least inform the copywrite holder of their intention to publish. I think this is a matter of common courtesy.
Onya Nigel

Graeme Codrington said...

Mike, thanks for picking this up off my blog. If it wasn't clear in my original post (which received way more interest than I thought it would), I have never used anyone's copyright work for profit. I make use of multimedia, music, videos and pictures in my presentations (which are for profit) and always seek permission before doing so. I also pay an annual performing artist license fee to doubly cover myself.

The point of my blog was the non profit use of the material by church youth group leaders. I am sure that this would lead to a good type of exposure, and certainly did not (and would not) generate income for them.

Thanks again for the discussion. Nice.

ME said...

I am in total agreement with Mike on this topic. As someone who has many of Gary Larson's books I have to agree that it is indeed one thing to pin your favourite cartoons on a locker or display framed copies in your home, but it is an entirely different matter to use his work to promote a corporate entity or personal views. An artist, regardless of their chosen medium or genre displays something of their inner self in their work. What we see from Larson's work is someone who is not trying to limit their humour to a particular mindset, political view or religious belief. This brings me to a point slightly overlooked in the comments I have read. That is misrepresentation, perhaps Mr. Larson wishes to see his work remain universally accessible and does not wish to see it used to promote any rigid set of personal, religious or political views. In my view it is weak and naive to hide behind a defense such as "we're only trying to bring (insert deity here) to underprivileged children". How would people react if Mr. Larson allowed his work to be used by a neo-fascist group because they said "hey, we're only trying to educate underprivileged children about the Fuhrer". So perhaps Mr. Larson was not concerned about lost revenue at all but concerned that his body of work would be used to represent ideals and beliefs far beyond their intended purpose. Thank you for reading and please remember when you buy the work of an artist you are purchasing it for your personal enjoyment, this does not entitle you to reproduce this work to promote your business or indeed promote your personal beliefs.

Graeme Codrington said...

Cynical Optimist Realist has made an excellent point. I hadn't thought of that before - that Larson wants to have some control over how his work is used in the advancement of the causes of others, especially those he might not personally agree with.

I wonder then, why he hid behind the copyright issue when he contacted me?

But, it's a good point. And well taken.

However, having said that, I don't agree that an artist can exert a moral right over their work once they SELL it to someone else. I am an author myself of two best selling books, both of which fall into the sociology field, and both of which help people to understand other people, for purposes of exerting some form of influence over them. How on earth is it possible for me to exert moral control over how people use my work?

If a great work of art inspires someone to think, do, or be something, how is it possible for the artist to exert influence over that response.

I think artists need to understand that one day "their children" (as Larson put it to me through his lawyer) grow up and leave the home, and then they must speak and live for themselves.

If you can't handle that, then don't be an artist!

PrettyGraphic Design said...

This may be a little late but...
Just because you bought a book that doesn't give you the right to scan and re-publish the images. When you bought the book you bought the right to look at them. NOT reproduce them.